Bin Laden confirmed killed: Questions and commentary
Not long after my Twitter and Facebook feeds exploded with exclamations about the rumors and then confirmation of the news that Osama bin Laden has been killed by American forces in Pakistan, a series of questions and concerns started rolling in. Some were directed toward me specifically–I’m the go-to “expert” on all things policy and politics for many of my friends and acquaintances (and for once I can honestly say that I do have a piece of paper that confirms that I am in fact more of an expert than most people)–others were questions asked of the internet in general, and having already put some thought into it for the benefit of those who asked me directly, I found myself repeating the same answers over and over. So I figured that I would post the most complete of my responses for the benefit of anyone else who asks, and perhaps also for the sake of posterity.
This response is largely cursory and is intended to be a high-level overview of this news event for those who are not policy, political or international affairs experts. It’s also a bit heavier on speculation and lighter on facts and rationale than the analyst in me tends to like, but I figured that I’d take a page out of the cable news manual and just run with what I had for the sake of time rather than risk letting this get away from me.
Earlier this evening, one of my friends sent me the following message that said, in part:
Is it bad that I don’t know how to feel about the news? I mean, I’m not a freaking terrorist supporter. I just don’t know how to feel about reveling in the death of anyone, notorious murderer or not.
I know I’m honestly glad he’s no longer a threat (even though now his supporters are…) and that some people will feel closure/safer because of it. But I don’t feel like going out and getting drunk because of it. His death doesn’t change what happened, it doesn’t bring anyone back, I’m not sure how it’ll affect relations with the Middle East… >_<
It just happened to be that this message asked pretty much all of the questions and voiced all of the concerns that I received from everyone who asked, so this reply applies as much to those as those as it does to the message I was originally responding to. This was my reply:
A lot of people aren’t jump-up-and-down excited over this, and there’s nothing wrong with that. IMO, it just shows that you’re a thinking person. If we’d got Bin Laden 8 or 9 years ago, it would have been way more LEGITIMATELY impactful than it is now. Now, it’s largely symbolic. It likely gives a lot of people closure (hence the excitement), much in the way that people reacted over Saddam Hussein’s execution (which, despite his crimes, was nothing more than a giant, symbolic example, and IMO imprisoning him for life instead of executing him on live TV would have been a much better solution, but I digress).
Bin Laden’s death likely does have a few practical implications which I summarized to someone on Twitter thusly: terrorists will probably try some shit, some allegiances in the Middle East will shift, and Obama will very probably get re-elected. Largely because Bin Laden had become a symbol for so many terrorist and insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan (and also to some extent in Iraq, but not as much as you’d think for various reasons), his death is somewhat akin to poking a beehive with a stick. For that reason, any actions are likely to be disorganized, hastily put together, and ultimately, unsuccessful. Some small stir-ups will probably result in some civilian deaths in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other places in the region, but I foresee the impact in that regard being relatively small.
Also, because many groups have probably been clinging to the “idea” of Bin Laden evading the US for so long, and possibly that many less scrupulous individuals have been legitimizing themselves by claiming their orders were coming from him, we’ll probably see some breakdown there. Additionally, Bin Laden was reportedly found staying in some pretty nice lodging in a suburb of Islamabad, Pakistan. If that is true, the Pakistani government will have a LOT of explaining to do, and their decisions about who to ally with from this point forward will be significant.
And it’s probably self-evident, but the timing of this will do nothing but work in Obama’s favor unless he lets the Republican party pull the messaging rug out from under him AGAIN by claiming that Bush “loosened the lid” or something. But from the looks of things right this second, I don’t see that being terribly successful. But don’t take that to mean that some politicians won’t try to spin this in some really twisted and messed up ways.
Further, this will probably have no practical effect on all of the stupid “national security” measures that have been implemented since 9/11, largely because politicians will play up the “this is only going to make them madder and try harder to attack us” card. Cynical, I know, but after so much has been invested into contracts and pork and bureaucracy, scaling it back or dismantling it will be a ball of wax all its own that no one will want to touch.
Additionally, I came across a pretty good analysis of this by Keith Olbermann who, despite his blowhardishness sometimes, is rather politically astute. I agree with pretty much everything he says in the first half of the article, and he hits on a few things that I probably didn’t articulate quite as well in my haste to write before my thoughts got too dispersed.
He does get a bit partisan in his tone in the second half of the article (pretty much everything following the picture from the Correspondents’ Dinner), but there are still a couple of good takeaways in those paragraphs, particularly the warnings about politicians attempting to re-write history in their attempts to spin the news to their advantage.
Anyway, those are most of my initial thoughts on all of this. I’m excited, not so much in the “Georgia Tech just beat UGA in football” kind of way, but more in the “I am seeing history and something that’s been anticipated for a long time” kind of way. I get the same excitement over big storms–they’re huge and awesome and amazing and you want to watch them (or at least I do), but they have the potential to stir up some serious shit.